By Jody Benson, Pajarito Group
The world has seen how inept, unprepared, disinterested, unfocused, and unscientific the US Administration and much of Congress has been in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This failure to protect the public makes me concerned for the government choices when it comes to nuclear weapons.
And yet, even with the pandemic and its subsequent economic/educational/cultural meltdown, even as Earth’s climate is changing at a rate that has exceeded most scientific forecasts (Siberia measured 100 F on June 20; the humans cut or burn 200,00 acres of Amazon forest per day; drought and floods worldwide severely impact agriculture, adding to the increase in climate refugees despite the pandemic), even as the world grapples with centuries of injustice — even as all these demands press the life out of us, the federal government is transitioning toward producing 30, then 80, nuclear-weapons triggers (pits) per year by 2030.
Much of the effort will be at Los Alamos National Laboratory on the skirt of the Jemez Mountains that have been in serious drought for almost 20 years, and with only one way in and one way out in case of a “radiological incident.”
The effort is to be shared between Savannah River National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab. Although this is a huge shift in the LANL mission, there’s been little public collaboration on issues that will significantly affect both Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico. After multiple requests, the Lab finally wrote a letter thanking the Pajarito Group for our interest and telling us to comment on the Site-wide Environmental Impact Statement.
Here’s the background: Our federal government is committed to nuclear weapons’ viability, as well as to creating new weapons such as the nuclear-armed, submarine-launched cruise missile (W76-2), the W93 submarine-launched nuclear warhead (to replace the Trident), and the 87-1, a redesign of a 40-year-old thermonuclear weapon made for ground-based missiles. These are our current federal priorities. Except for voting for a change in the Senate and the Executive, we can’t do much about the federal nuclear “security” mission.
However, because LANL expects Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico to support and fund all the extraneous needs required by the huge increase in both staffing and infrastructure, we can work locally.
Here’s the Pajarito Group’s strategy: Focus on local governments. Let our cities and counties know they must monitor and restrict LANL’s demands on our communities. Local governments’ job is to protect both human communities and the natural environment. LANL must alleviate issues before the project proceeds. We locals must communicate our demands in order to ensure that negative impacts are either stopped or mitigated.
The most urgent issues regarding the impacted communities of Los Alamos and Northern New Mexico include: transportation, quality of life, protecting the natural environment, affordable housing, and limiting climate change. These issues must be fully addressed with public input prior to the pit-facility infrastructure moving forward.
Of these, let’s focus on the “lowest-hanging fruit:” initiating and sustaining a smart transportation plan.
Smart transportation plan
Although the supplemental EIS states LANL will need about 400 new hires for the pit factory, LANL management predicts it will hire 1,000 to 1,500 new workers per year for the next five years. To meet these needs, the Los Alamos County Council created an inventory of all the vacant land, both public and private, within the county. These include school property as well as TAs 70/71 adjacent to Pajarito Acres.
LANL also proposes to house many of these new workers off The Hill (primarily in Rio Rancho, where homes are affordable), LANL proposes to maintain the existing paradigm of individuals driving cars. For this the lab is urging the state to build a shortcut from I-25 across the Caja del Rio Western Wildway Priority Wildlife Corridor, bridging the Rio north of Frijoles Canyon to connect to State Road 4. The state and other agencies — not LANL — would fund this project.
A most efficient transportation model, however, is for a LANL-sponsored, free system such as a bus fleet similar to what the Nevada Test Site provided from Las Vegas. Not only would the fleet significantly reduce the state and nation’s responsibility for continued repairs and upgrades, but eliminate the need for a short cut requiring bridging the Rio Grande.
Questions to address about the new pit facility
- What percentage of the Lab’s proposed 4,000 to 7,000 new work force will be engaged in making pits?
- What is LANL’s expectation from the State and County in funding the expansion as well as providing land, housing, fire/utilities/water/police-protection (etc)?
- What engagement has there been with other affected communities including the Pueblos, and what are their positions?
- The new facility is a significantly broader scope than was analyzed for the 2008 Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement for Continued Operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory. How did DOE/NNSA come to the decision that currently no new significant circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns apply to this project, and therefore requiring only an addendum rather than a new, more complete SWEIS?
- How will LANL proceed with the project if a new administration decides not to fund it at the new, current level?
National Nuclear Security Administration: Plutonium Pit Production
American Physical Society: The Modern Pit Facility
Arms Control Association: Reconsidering U.S. Plutonium Pit Production Plans
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Why a decision on a second US plutonium-pit-production factory should be delayed
Santa Fe New Mexican: LANL to increase plutonium lab work ahead of pit production
Contact Senators Martin Heinrich, Tom Udall, and your representative, and tell them you want a Manhattan Project for Climate Change at LANL rather than new nuclear weapons triggers.
Featured image: Precision Plutonium Pit Foundry Mold, 1959, from Wikipedia.